Kofi Agawu
Division of Humanities
  • Music
  • kagawu@gc.cuny.edu

Distinguished Professor of Music, Graduate Center, The City University of New York; Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy; Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences; Honorary Member of the Royal Musical Association; Adjunct Professor in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon


Membership Number: FCA2403

Membership Type: Fellow

Division: Humanities

Corresponding Email: kagawu@gc.cuny.edu

Homepage(s): https://www.gc.cuny.edu/people/kofi-agawu 


Present and Previous Positions

Distinguished Professor of Music, Graduate Center, The City University of New York

According to Princeton University, Kofi Agawu was the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Music at Princeton and transferred to emeritus status to take up new responsibilities at the City University of New York. At Princeton, he advanced the study of music across genres, cultures, continents, and eras.


Fields of Scholarship and Research Interests

Music analysis, musical semiotics, African music, postcolonial theory

Kofi Agawu was born in Ghana, where he received his initial education before studying composition and analysis in the UK and musicology in the US. His work focuses on analytical issues in selected repertoires of Western Europe and West Africa. 

He is the author of five monographs and numerous articles and reviews. 


Honors, Awards and Other Membership

Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy

Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences

Honorary Member of the Royal Musical Association

Adjunct Professor in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon

His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Dent Medal, the Frank Llewellyn Harrison Medal, the Howard T. Behrman Award from Princeton University, and honorary degrees from Stellenbosch University (2017) and Bard College (2019). 

He has served on the editorial boards of leading journals in musicology, music theory, African studies and ethnomusicology. 

He was Music Theorist in Residence for the Dutch-Flemish Music Theory Society in 2008-09 and George Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford University in 2012-13.


Selected Publications


The African Imagination in Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). Publication supported by the Manfred Bukofzer Endowment of the American Musicological Society.  **Received the Kwabena Nketia Book Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology in 2018**. Translated into French as L'Imagination africaine en musique by Thierry BonhommeLaurent Bury and Claire Martinet (Paris: Cité de la musique-Philharmonie, 2020). **Received an Académie Charles Cros Award in the category “World Music” (2020).**

  • Music as Discourse: Semiotic Adventures in Romantic Music (Oxford University Press, 2009). Translated into Spanish by Silvia Villegas as La música como discurso: Aventuras semióticas en la música romántica (Eterna Cadencia Editora, 2012).

  • Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions (Routledge, 2003).

  • African Rhythm: A Northern Ewe Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

  • Playing with Signs: A Semiotic Interpretation of Classic Music (Princeton University Press. 1991). **Received the Young Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory in 1994**


"Lives in Musicology: My life in writings." Acta Musicologica 93(1), 2021, 1-18.

  • "African Art Music and the Challenge of Postcolonial Composition," in Dynamisch Traditionen: Globale Perspektiven auf zeitgenössiche Musik, ed. Elisa Erkelenz and Katja Heldt  (Donaueschingen: Druckerei Hermann, 2021), 179-187.

  • "Rethinking Ligeti's (and Reich's) African Affiliations," in A Tribute to György Ligeti in His Native Transylvania, Nos. 1-2, ed. Bianca Tiplea Temes and Kofi Agawu (Cluj-Napoca: MediaMusica, 2020): 105-131. 

  • “Preludio: La musica como discurso, diez anos después” [“Foreword: Music as Discourse Ten Years On”], Música e Investigación 28 (2020), 141-45.

  • “Against Ethnotheory.” In The Dawn of Music Semiology: Essays in Honor of Jean-Jacques Nattiez, ed. Jonathan Dunsby and Jonathan Goldman (University of Rochester Press, 2017): 38-55.

  • “Tonality as a Colonizing Force in Africa.” In Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique, ed. Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan (Duke University Press, 2016): 334-354. **Translated into Portuguese by José H. Padovani  as “O tonalismo como força colonizadora na África,” Revista Vórtex [Vortex Music Journal] 9 (2021), 1-34: https://doi.org/10.33871/23179937.2021.9.1.20

  • “Topics and Form in Mozart’s String Quintet in E Flat Major, K. 614/I,” in The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory, ed. Danuta Mirka (Oxford University Press, 2014): 474-492. **Volume received a Citation of Merit from the Society for Music Theory (2015)**

  • “Taruskin’s Problem(s),” Music Theory Spectrum 33/2 (2011): 186-90.

  • “The Challenge of African Art Music,” Circuit, musiques contemporaines 21/2 (2011): 55-72.

  • “Topic Theory: Achievement, Critique, Prospects.” In Passagen/IMS Congress Zürich 2007: Fünf Hauptvorträge, ed. Laurenz Lütteken and Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen (Zurich: Bärenreiter, 2008): 38-69.

  • **Translated into French by Geneviève Bégou as "La théorie des topiques: Bilan, critiques et perspectives," in Narratologie musicale: topiques, théories et stratégies analytiques," ed. Márta Grabócz (Paris: Hermann, 2021), 43-72.

  •  “Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 3, First Movement: Two Readings, with a Comment on Analysis.” In Communication in Eighteenth-Century Music, ed. Danuta Mirka and Kofi Agawu (Cambridge University Press, 2008): 230-53.

  • “To Cite or Not to Cite? Confronting the Legacy of (European) Writing on African Music.” Fontes Artis Musicae 54/3 (2007): 254-62.

  • “The Communal Ethos in African Performance: Ritual, Narrative and Music among the Northern Ewe.” In Approaches to African Musics, ed. Enrique Cámara de Landa and Silvia Martínez García (Universidad de Valladolid, Centro Buendía, 2006): 181-200. Also published in TRANS 11 (2007).

  • “Structural Analysis or Cultural Analysis? Competing Perspectives on the ‘Standard Pattern’ of West African Rhythm.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 59/1 (2006): 1-46.

  • “Analyzing Black Gospel Music: Notes on the Rev. James Cleveland’s Rendition of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” In Multiple Interpretations of Creativity and Knowledge in African Music Traditions, ed. Bode Omojola and George Dor (MRI Press, 2005): 153-164.

  • “How We Got Out of Analysis and How to Get Back In Again,” Music Analysis 23/2-3 (2005): 267-86.

  • “What Adorno Makes Possible for Music Analysis,” 19th-Century Music 29/1 (2005): 48-54.

  • "Aesthetic Inquiry and the Music of Africa." In A Companion to African Philosophy, edited by Kwasi Wiredu (Blackwells, 2004): 404-14.

  • "Contesting Difference: A Critique of (Africanist) Ethnomusicology." In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. by Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton (New York, 2003): 227-37.

  • "Il ritmo.” In Enciclopedia della Musica II: Il sapere musicale, translated by Fulvia De Colle, ed. Jean-Jacques Nattiez. (Einaudi, 2002): 45-71.

  • "The Symphonies." In The Brahms Companion, ed. Michael Musgrave (Cambridge University Press, 1999): 133-55.

  • "Music Analysis versus Musical Hermeneutics." American Journal of Semiotics 13/1-4 (1998): 9-24. French translation by Geneviève Bégou as “Analyse musicale contre herméneutique musicale.” In Sens et signification en musique, ed. Marta Grabocz. (Hermann, 2007): 93-106.

  • "The Challenge of Musical Semiotics." In Rethinking Music, ed. Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (Oxford University Press, 1998): 138-60.

  • "The Chamber Music of Beethoven." In Chamber Music in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Stephen Hefling (Schirmer, 1997): 1-38.

  • "Analyzing Music under the New Musicological Regime." Music Theory Online 2(4): http://www.societymusictheory.org/mto/issues/mto.96.2.4/mto.96.2.4.agawu.html.  Reprinted in Journal of Musicology 15/3 (1997): 297-307.

  • "The Narrative Impulse in the Second Nachtmusik from Mahler's 7th." In Analytical Strategies and Musical Interpretation: Essays on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Music, ed. Craig Ayrey and Mark Everist (Cambridge University Press, 1996): 226-41.

  • "Mozart's Art of Variation: Remarks on the First Movement of K. 503." In Mozart's Piano Concertos: Text, Context, Interpretation, ed. Neal Zaslaw (The University of Michigan Press, 1996): 303-13.

  • "Prospects for a Theory-Based Analysis of Mozart's Instrumental Music." In Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: Essays on His Life and Work, ed. Stanley Sadie (Oxford University Press, 1996): 121-31.

  • "Prolonged Counterpoint in Mahler." In Mahler Studies, ed. Stephen Hefling (Cambridge University Press, 1996): 217-47.

  • "The Invention of ‘African Rhythm’." Journal of the American Musicological Society 48/3 (1995): 380-95. Reprinted in Popular Music: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 3, ed. Simon Frith (New York: Routledge, 2004), 103-18.

  • "Ambiguity in Tonal Music: A Preliminary Study." In Theory, Analysis and Meaning in Music, ed. Anthony Pople (Cambridge University Press, 1994): 86-107.

  • "Does Music Theory need Musicology?" Current Musicology 53 (1993): 89-98.

  • "Representing African Music." Critical Inquiry 18/2 (1992): 245-66.

  • "Theory and Practice in the Analysis of the Nineteenth-Century Lied." Music Analysis 11/1 (1992): 3-36.

  • "Stravinsky's Mass and Stravinsky Analysis." Music Theory Spectrum 11/2 (1989), 139-63.

  • "Schenkerian Notation in Concept and Practice." Music Analysis 8/3 (1989): 275-301.

  • "Music in the Funeral Traditions of the Akpafu." Ethnomusicology 32/1 (1988): 75-105.

  • "Tone and Tune: The Evidence for Northern Ewe Music." Africa 58/3 (1988): 127-46.

  • "Concepts of Closure and Chopin's Opus 28." Music Theory Spectrum 9 (1987): 1-17.

  • "Tonal Strategy in the First Movement of Mahler's Tenth Symphony." Nineteenth-Century Music 9/2 (1986): 222-33.


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